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Despite Supreme Court news, Bob Stefanowski is focused on inflation

The campaign of Republican Bob Stefanowski offered free donuts to underline his emphasis on inflation as a foundational issue.
The campaign of Republican Bob Stefanowski offered free donuts to underline his emphasis on inflation as a foundational issue.

If a tad self-consciously, Republican Bob Stefanowski used puns and free “diesel donuts” at Donut Crazy shops on Friday to remind voters that Gov. Ned Lamont did nothing to stop a diesel fuel tax increase from taking effect.

“OK, so here’s the phrase: What’s happening in Connecticut today is crazy. And Gov. Lamont is leaving the people of Connecticut with just the crumbs,” Stefanowski said, recording a campaign social-media spot in West Hartford. “I know it’s a bit of a goofy saying, but there is some truth to it.”

While much of the political world is still talking about the legal and political ramifications of the U.S. Supreme Court upending nearly a half-century of abortion law, the Republican candidate for governor is betting that inflation ultimately will drive more voters to the polls than social issues.

“These social issues are important — don’t get me wrong,” Stefanowski said. “But when I go out to people, they’re talking about inflation, government spending, gas prices, and this governor right now is ignoring it.”

Lamont was one of the governors scheduled to participate in a virtual meeting Friday afternoon with President Joe Biden to talk about how to protect access to abortions after the court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade a week ago, freeing states to restrict or ban abortion.

Earlier, the governor and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz posted an open letter to business owners who may be interested in relocating to a state where reproductive rights are protected by state law.

And on Monday, Lamont began airing a television commercial underlining his unqualified support for abortion rights.

Stefanowski, meanwhile, has downplayed abortion as an issue in Connecticut, using the same rationale behind Lamont’s pitching the state as a safe harbor: The state codified the tenets of Roe years ago with a law affirming the unrestricted legality of abortion through fetal viability, about 23 weeks.

While declaring support for the state’s decades-old abortion law, Stefanowski has called for one change opposed by Lamont: a parental notification rule for minors under 16, as opposed the state’s current counseling law that encourages but does not require consultation with a parent.

Stefanowski also has refused to say if he would have signed Connecticut’s first-in-the-nation law offering legal protections to abortion providers and patients against “civil bounty” lawsuits. Texas has empowered its citizens to sue anyone involved in an abortion in violation of that state’s law.

His running mate, Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, voted for the law.

For the time being, at least, the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court is generating news and headlines unhelpful to New England Republicans who prefer to keep voters focused on inflation, the cost of living and taxes.

On Thursday, the court struck down the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to curb carbon emissions from electric power plants, a ruling that calls into question regulatory rules not explicitly endorsed by Congress — and reinforces that states play a role in combating climate change.

“I’ll continue to do everything I can to ensure Connecticut continues to lead the way, and I’ll keep working collaboratively with governors across the nation to ensure we’re doing everything we can as states to reduce carbon pollution,” Lamont said. “The climate crisis requires a national strategy, and federal inaction is unacceptable. I urge Congress to enact meaningful legislation to avert this crisis.”

Stefanowski has spoken carefully about climate change, suggesting opposition to any policy that could increase the cost of fuel or electricity.

On Friday, Stefanowski and Devlin traveled separately to Donut Crazy shops, where the campaign was providing Boston cream donuts decorated with an edible message: Stop the diesel tax.” The chain’s owner contributed $120 to his 2018 campaign.

Holding a “diesel donut,” Republican Bob Stefanowski records a tax message for social media followers outside Donut Crazy in West Hartford.
Holding a “diesel donut,” Republican Bob Stefanowski records a tax message for social media followers outside Donut Crazy in West Hartford.

Stefanowski began his day with a 7 a.m. stop outside the West Hartford shop. Foot traffic was light, but Stefanowski held a donut and recorded a video message for the campaign’s social media.

“Why in the world, when you got a three and a half billion dollar budget surplus in Hartford, and people are struggling to decide whether to pay for rent, whether to pay for food, whether to pay for gas, whether to pay for prescription medicines, why in the world would you be raising taxes today?” he said.

Technically, Lamont did not raise the tax, which is adjusted every July 1 under a formula set by state law. The tax increased by 9.1 cents to 49.2 cents on every gallon of diesel, which has been selling for around $6.

But the governor did not ask the General Assembly to change the formula, suspend the increase or the whole tax, as Stefanowski has suggested. Lamont and the legislature did suspend the 25-cents-per-gallon excise tax on gasoline, which has produced the lowest average gasoline price in the northeast.

AAA’s daily gas tracker showed that the average cost of regular gasoline in Connecticut was $4.814, a few pennies lower than the national average of $4.842. The average cost of diesel in the state was $6.069 a gallon, compared to $5.760 nationally.

“So anyway, I do empathize for what people are going through right now,” Stefanowski said to his Twitter and Facebook followers. “Try to keep things in perspective. Have a free donut today, free coffee. I hope everybody has a great holiday weekend. Hang on. Help is on the way. We’re gonna win this election in November.”

If so, how would a Gov. Stefanowski tame inflation that is raging through the U.S., in red and blue states, and most of the world?

“Control spending, zero based budgeting. Let’s take a hard look at that budget. Let’s start with a blank piece of paper. It goes up by two to three billion a year,” replied Stefanowski, a former accountant and corporate executive.

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